It's not often a group with one full-length album to its credit could be so revered by a certain segment of metalheads. Especially when that disc came out 17 years ago and the band has been dormant for much of the time since.
The catch-22 with such acts that do choose to return, eventually, is the knowledge that some people may not care about them anymore while others still yearning for a return will come out in full force to see them play. The Union Underground, staples in San Antonio metal history, experienced that conundrum Thursday night, marking its long-awaited return as headliners for the second day of the annual three-day SiestaFest in the parking lot of Alamo City Music Hall. The festival's annual rap show took up the Wednesday portion while Triumph vocalist Rik Emmett did the classic-rock honors Friday, with local original and tribute acts providing support.
But it was undoubtedly The Union Underground's inclusion that came with the tag of "most curious to see how they'll perform back from the dead." Consider it mission successfully accomplished.
Still comprised of original members in vocalist Bryan Scott and drummer Josh Memolo, The Union Underground released . . . An Education in Rebellion in 2000. Also consisting at the time of guitarist Patrick Kennison and bassist John Moyer, The Union Underground gained worldwide fame from 2002-06 with a song that wasn't on that album, as World Wrestling Entertainment used "Across the Nation" for its weekly theme song on "Monday Night Raw" and as part of the company's Forceable Entry CD. The Union Underground even performed it live on an episode of "Raw" (watch here).
Kennison these days fronts Heaven Below and doubles as Lita Ford's guitarist. He played Fitzgerald's with the latter last Oct. 5, the day after performing for four hours at a benefit for local fan Charlie Lopez at Papa Woody's Roadhouse, which included Memolo making a cameo for a couple of The Union Underground tracks (coverage here). Moyer, of course, continues to earn his big bucks with some band called Disturbed that headlined San Antonio's largest festival, the River City Rockfest, in 2016.
Scott has spent a large bulk of the past few years producing and mixing local talent. Also known for fronting Cult to Follow, Scott released an EP last fall as the Into The Fire project he formed with Soil members Tim King (bass) and Adam Zadel (guitar). He discussed it with AXS in 2014 (listen here).
But Thursday night provided a chance for Scott and The Union Underground to do more than take a "South Texas Death Ride" down Memory Lane and revisit the glory days of San Antonio nu-metal. It gave the group an opportunity to see how the city would respond to news the band plans on releasing new music this year. The Union Underground provided a taste by performing "Faith Collapsing," with Scott directing, pleading and comically threatening fans on multiple occasions not to upload the song to the internet until its release. Though he added that the crowd could film all it wanted of the show, Scott emphasized not to upload the forthcoming song while seriously joking, "I have all your email addresses."
Armed this time with bassist Troy Doebbler, who will return to town as the bassist in Wednesday 13 when that band headlines Paper Tiger on Saturday, July 1 (tickets here), along with guitarist Todd "Taz" Osterhouse, The Union Underground came out smokin'. Literally. The occasion of the return was worthy of accompanying pyrotechnics. But although that's not allowed in the downtown venue's neighborhood parking lot, fans could still picture the image by using a little imagination.
The music spoke for itself -- even though band members likely experienced a few butterflies anticipating, and carrying out, the moment. Scott received rock-star status by being given a security escort through the crowd en route to the stage. Although The Union Underground was a long way (time-wise) from its inclusion on the 2001 Ozzfest tour with the likes of Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, Papa Roach and Mudvayne, tracks such as "Drivel," "Killing the Fly" and "Bitter" pumped up the atmosphere in no time. Memolo provided an extra spark with a drum solo (AXS footage here). By the time "Until You Crack" and "Turn Me On Mr. Deadman" pierced the eardrums (setlist in slideshow), it was time for "Across the Nation" to end the festivities and notch SiestaFest 2017 into the annals of San Antonio heavy metal (AXS footage below).
Stabbing Westward provided direct support with its own reunion, preceded by Houston six-pack The Hunger plus locals My Madness and Refugee. Stabbing Westward enjoyed the largest crowd of the evening and performed its '90s hit "Save Yourself" along with "The Thing I Hate." Vocalist Christopher Hall made some extra friends by saying, "We're Stabbing Westward from Chicago, Illinois. We broke up in 2002, and our last show was in San Antonio. . . What's the Spurs score?"
While perhaps one-third of the crowd departed after Stabbing Westward's performance, either in mock protest the group should've headlined or to catch what was left of the Spurs' first-round closeout of the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA playoffs, this was The Union Underground's night. With the trip down Memory Lane, plus the question of how much reaction its return would generate answered and in the books, other questions have formed: how much of a future will the new era of The Union Underground have? What will it sound like?
Stay tuned. And in the meantime, move to the music.